The problem: I called my utilities company to ask why my rental house had terminated service when my account showed a credit. I got a very chatty service representative who liked my name. She had a childhood friend with the same name who, apparently, belonged to an “odd” religion which she explained in great detail, and then she went on to tell me how she ran into the woman’s sister at a bar in west Texas of all places, etc., etc. After lots more stories, she fixed my problem and then asked if I would stay on the line to answer a survey about her service. She was very nice. The dilemma was how honest to be in the survey.

Low road: Apologize, but explain that a full day had passed since this call began and you simply must go to bed.

High road: Three people have needs here, and that doesn’t include the Girl With the Odd Religion. There is you, trying to resolve an understandable annoyance and get on with your day. There is Chatty Cathy, and there is Chatty Cathy’s boss, whose business relies on the smooth and preferably rapid resolution of customer complaints. You have to guess whether this is a pattern on her part, or if you just got “lucky” with your name and her hunger on this day to connect with somebody. I’m betting on the latter. By responding to the survey truthfully, but simply — yes, your problem was resolved — you grant her a break. If this is her nature, she’ll either be nominated as Employee of the Month by folks equally enamored of small talk, or on unemployment due to a customer with a punitive streak. That won’t be you, because you know there is far more power and light in kindness.

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